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- The Window-Gazer - 4/55 -
of nothing but their breakfast."
At the word "breakfast" (which had temporarily slipped from his vocabulary) the famished professor wheeled so quickly that his knee twisted. Miss Farr smiled, her cool and too-understanding smile.
"There's something to eat," she said. "Come in."
She did not wait for him but walked off quickly. The professor followed more slowly. The path, even the front path, was rough (he had noticed that last night); but the cottage, seen now with the glamour of its outlook still in his eyes, seemed not quite so impossible as he had thought. The grace of early spring lay upon it and all around. True, it was small and unpainted and in bad repair, but its smallness and its brownness seemed not out of keeping with the mountain-side. Its narrow veranda was railed by unbarked branches from the cedars. Its walls were rough and weather-beaten, its few windows, broad and low. The door was open and led directly into the living room whence his hostess had preceded him.
The marvellous scent of the morning was everywhere. The room, as he went in, seemed full of it. Not such a bad room, either, not nearly so comfortless as he had thought last night. There was a fireplace, for instance, a real fireplace of cobble-stones, for use, not ornament; a long table stood in the middle of the room, an old fashioned sofa sprawled beneath one of the windows. There was a dresser at one end with open shelves for china and, at the other, a book-case, also open, filled with old and miscellaneous books. . . .
And, best and most encouraging of all, there was breakfast on the table.
"I told Li Ho to give you eggs," said Miss Farr. "It is the one thing we can be sure of having fresh. Do you like eggs?"
The professor liked eggs. He had never liked eggs so well before, except once in Flanders--he looked up to thank his hostess, but she had not waited. Nevertheless the breakfast was very good. Not until he had finished the last crumb of it did he notice that the comfort of the place was more apparent than real. The table tipped whenever you touched it. The chair upon which he sat had lost an original leg and didn't take kindly to its substitute. The china was thick and chipped. The walls were unfinished and draughty, the ceiling obviously leaked. There had been some effort to keep the place livable, for the faded curtains were at least clean and the floor swept--but the blight of decay and poverty lay hopelessly upon it all.
And what was a young girl--a girl with level eyes and lifted chin-- doing in this galley? . . . Undoubtedly the less he bothered himself about that question the better. This young person was probably just as she wished to appear, careless and content. And in any case it was none of his business.
The sensible thing for him to do was to pack his bag and turn his back--the absurd old man with the umbrella . . . pshaw! . . . He wouldn't go home, of course. Aunt Caroline would say "I told you so" . . . no, she wouldn't say it--she would look it, which was worse . . . he had come away for a rest cure and a rest cure he intended to have . . . with a groan he thought of the pictures he had formed of this place, the comfortable seclusion, the congenial old scholar, the capable secretary, the--he looked up to find that Miss Farr had returned and was regarding him with a cool and pleasantly aloof consideration.
"Are you wondering how soon you may decently leave?" she inquired. "We are not at all formal here. And, of course--" her shrug and gesture disposed of all other matters at issue. "Yours are the only feelings that need to be considered. I should like to know, though," she continued with some warmth of interest, "if you really came just to observe Indians. Father might think of a variety of attractions. Health?--any-thing from gout to tuberculosis. Fish?--father can talk about fish until you actually see them leaping. Shooting?--according to father, all the animals of the ark abound in these mountains. Curios?--father has an Indian mound somewhere which he always keeps well stocked."
Professor Spence smiled. "So many activities," he said, "should bring better results."
"They are too well known. Most people make some inquiry." The faint emphasis on the "most" made the professor feel uncomfortable. Was it possible that this young girl considered him, Benis Spence, something of a fool? He dismissed the idea as unlikely.
"Inquiry in my case would have meant delay," he answered frankly, "and I was in a hurry. I wanted to get away from--I wanted to get away for rest and study in a congenial environment. Still, I will admit that I might not have inquired in any case. I am accustomed to trust to my instinct. My father was a very far-sighted man--what are you laughing at?"
"Nothing. Only it sounded so much like 'nevertheless, my grandsire drew a long bow at the battle of Hastings'--don't you remember, in 'Ivanhoe?'"
The professor sighed. "I have forgotten 'Ivanhoe,'" he said, "which means, I suppose, that I have forgotten youth. Sometimes its ghost walks, though. I think it was that which kept me so restless at home. I thought that if I could get away--You see, before the war, I was gathering material for a book on primitive psychology and when I came back I found some of the keenness gone." He smiled grimly. "I came back inclined to think that all psychology is primitive. But I wanted to get to work again. I had never studied the West Coast Indians and your father's letters led me to believe that--er--"
It was not at all polite of her to laugh, but he had to admit that her laughter was very pleasant and young.
"It is funny, you know," she murmured apologetically. "For I am sure you pictured father as a kind of white patriarch, surrounded by his primitive children (father is certain to have called the Indians his 'children'!). Unfortunately, the Indians detest father. They're half afraid of him, too. I don't know why. Years ago, when we lived up coast--" she paused, plainly annoyed at her own loquacity, "we knew plenty of Indians then," she finished shortly.
"And are there no Indians here at all?"
"There is an Indian reservation at North Vancouver. That is the nearest. I do not think they are just what you are looking for. But both in Vancouver and Victoria you can get in touch with men who can direct you. Your journey need not be entirely wasted."
"But Dr. Farr himself--Is he not something of an authority?"
"Y-es. I suppose he is."
"What information the letters contained seemed to be the real thing."
"Oh, the letters were all right. I wrote them."
"Didn't I tell you I was the secretary? My department is the 'information bureau.' I do not see the actual letters. There are always personal bits which father puts in himself."
"Bits regarding boarding accommodation, etc.?"
She did not answer his smile, and her eyes grew hard as she nodded.
"Usually I can keep things from going that far. I can't quite see how it happened so suddenly in your case."
"I happen to be a sudden person."
"Evidently. Father was quite dumbfounded when he knew you had actually arrived. He certainly expected an interval during which he could invent good and sufficient reasons for putting you off."
"Such as smallpox. An outbreak of smallpox among the Indians is quite a favorite with father."
"The old--I beg your pardon!"
"Don't bother. You are certainly entitled to an expression of your feelings. It may be the only satisfaction, you will get. But aren't we getting away from the question?" "Question?"
"When do you wish Li Ho to take you back to Vancouver?"
Professor Spence opened his lips to say that any time would suit. It was the obvious answer, the only sensible answer, the answer which he fully intended to make. But he did not make it.
"Must I really go?" he asked. He was, so he had said himself, a sudden person.
His hostess met his deprecating gaze with pure surprise.
"You can't possibly want to stay?"
"I quite possibly can. I like it here. And I'm horribly tired."
The hostility which had begun to gather in her eyes lightened a little.
"Tired? I noticed that you limped this morning. Is there anything the matter with you?"
It was certainly an ungracious way of putting it. And her eyes, while not exactly hostile, were ungracious, too. They would make anyone with a spark of pride want to go away at once. The professor told himself this. Besides, his only possible reason for wishing to stay had been some unformed idea of being helpful to the girl herself--ungrateful minx!
"If there is anything really wrong--" the cold incredulity of her tone was the last straw.
"Nothing wrong at all!" said Professor Spence. He arose briskly. Alas! He had forgotten his sciatic nerve. He had forgotten, too, the crampiness of its temper since that glacial bath, and, most completely of all, had he forgotten the fate of the man-who-didn't- take-care-of-himself. Therefore it was with something of surprise that he found himself crumpled up upon the floor. Only when he tried
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